Top 10 Meals for Back to School

Despite what the temperature gauge is telling us, somehow it’s time for back to school. Of course with the excitement of a new school year comes all.the.stress. Running carpool, after school activities galore, attending open houses, and teacher meet ‘n greets – everything sort of collides at once. This time of year, I am all about fast, easy, and healthy. Eating together as a family is a non-negotiable for us, so I’ve turned to some major meal planning. It definitely takes upfront effort, but it’s so worth it to know that I am feeding family home-cooked meals that will help nourish their little brains and fuel their bodies. Here’s a list of my favorite meals to get your school year off to a fabulous start. And don’t forget to be flexible! So many of these have substitutes for various ingredients depending upon what you have on hand or your personal preferences. Definitely get creative in the kitchen and let the kids help where they can! Okay, forks up and GO!

Back to School RecipesPhoto courtesy of the super talented Momma’s Gonna Snap Photography

 1. Roasted Whole Chicken {An oldie but goodie}

  • 4-5lb chicken {or turkey if you would like}
  • Extra virgin olive oil {EVOO}
  • Garlic salt
  • Fresh herbs {rosemary, thyme, etc}
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 yellow onion
  • Salt & pepper

Directions :: Preheat your oven to 450. Clean out the yummy gizzards from the bird’s cavity and rinse well. Pat dry with paper towels. Place in a roasting pan with wings and legs tucked underneath. Drizzle your EVOO over the skin and then sprinkle your garlic salt, a little regular salt, and pepper. If you like things spicier, you can also use a cajun seasoning. Cut your lemons into quarters along with your onion. Place in the cavity of the chicken. You can use cooking twine to hold the legs over the cavity or just roll with it. I’m lazy and always forget twine, so no worries. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes to crisp the skin, then knock the temp down to 350. Aim for 20 minutes per pound at 350. Your chicken should register a solid 165 when it’s done. Let it rest on the counter with loosely placed foil on top for 10-15 minutes, then carve and enjoy! Serve with an easy side of steamed broccoli and rice, and you are good to go! {This is a perfect Sunday night meal, and then you can use the leftovers all week long!}

2. Pulled Pork Sandwiches

  • 4-6lb pork shoulder or pork butt {I look for the leanest the butcher is offering that day}
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 oranges
  • Apple juice
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic
  • BBQ spice rub
  • Your choice of BBQ sauce {approximately 2 bottles – it takes a lot!}
  • Bag of coleslaw
  • Light mayo
  • Dried dill
  • Whole wheat slider buns

Directions :: This one takes night prep, but it cooks in the slow cooker the entire next day – so WINNING. Rinse your pork and pat dry. Using a small knife, cut small incisions in your pork and place in your unpeeled garlic cloves. Sprinkle your BBQ spice rub very liberally on all four sides. Wrap tightly in saran wrap and leave in the fridge overnight. Next morning, unwrap the pork and place in slow cooker {fat side down}. Throw in quartered onions and orange slices. Pour apple juice on top of the pork until it’s about 3 inches up. {You could also use a light citrus-type beer [I’m looking at you, ShockTop] or Coke here as well if that’s all you have on hand.} Set your crock pot to low for 8-10 hours. Boom. You are out the door. When you get home, remove pork and drain the juice. Shred with 2 forks and place back in the slow cooker on warm. Pour in BBQ sauce until you get your desired consistency. Take bag of coleslaw and mix with a few tablespoons of your light mayo. Sprinkle in about 1 tsp of dill, some S&P, cover, and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve, grab your buns, place about a cup of pulled pork on the bun, top with a little coleslaw, and enjoy!

3. Chicken “Handles” {It’s all in the name for my kiddos! Adapted from Skinny Taste}

  • One family-size package of chicken drumsticks {I usually count on 2 per person, plus lefties}
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp of dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp of honey mustard
  • 1 tbsp of light mayo
  • 1 tsp of garlic powder
  • Dried parsley

Directions :: Preheat oven to 350. Mix together your mustard/mayo/lime/garlic powder combo in a small bowl. If your chicken has the skin on, peel off for a healthier version. Prepare a baking sheet with foil and a little non-stick spray. Place drumsticks on baking sheet and spread on mustard mixture with a basting brush, turning the legs as you go so they are evenly coated. Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes or when temperature has reached 165. {You can also do morning or evening prep for this one, placing in plastic bag fully coated until ready to cook. Just remove from fridge about 30 minutes before cooking.}

4. Potato Boats {Adapted from my mom – mix ‘n match as you like!}

  • 1 potato per family member
  • 1 lb ground beef/chicken tenderloins/leftover pulled pork
  • Toast {1/2 slice per person}
  • Toothpicks
  • Topping suggestions :: light sour cream or plain Greek yogurt; scallions; low-fat shredded cheese; turkey bacon; steamed broccoli florets

Directions :: Preheat oven to 400. Clean your potatoes, poke a few holes, and wrap in aluminum foil. Throw into the oven {I usually cook mine for 60 minutes with the foil off for the last 15 minutes to crisp the skin}. Brown your beef or cook your chicken in a skillet {or reuse that delish pulled pork!}. Toast the bread and cut into 2 triangles. Assemble your toppings into bowls. The fun part :: let each kiddo build their own potato boat with the toppings of their choice! Then thread the toothpick through toast to make the sail and plop into the potato. A healthy and easy dinner!

5. Turkey Tostadas {Adapted from Dashing Dish}

  • 1 lb ground turkey {I use 99% lean} or ground beef {96% or 93% lean}
  • 1 1/2 cups of chunky salsa {mild for the kiddos}
  • 4 oz can of diced green chilies
  • 1/2 package of taco seasoning or more to taste
  • 1 can of low-sodium black beans, rinsed
  • 16 oz bag of frozen corn, defrosted
  • Bag of tostadas {found near the tortillas}
  • Toppings :: shredded lettuce; tomatoes; 2% Mexican blend shredded cheese; light sour cream or plain non-fat Greek yogurt; low-fat refried beans; salsa; olives; diced onion

Directions :: Preheat oven to package directions for the tostada shells. Add meat, salsa, green chilies, and taco seasoning to a non-stick skillet on medium to medium high. Brown meat and break it up as you cook it, about 10-12 minutes. Place tostadas in the oven on a baking tray according to package directions, usually 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and add in your drained black beans and corn, stir to combine. Organize your toppings and let your kiddos choose {we always make sure they have something colorful, though!}. I love to spread beans on the bottom layer, put about 1/2 cup of the turkey mix, then pile high with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and salsa. Yum! Dinner is on the table in 15-20 minutes! {If you choose, you can also do this with regular taco shells or even lettuce cups, your choice!}

6. Homemade Marinara Sauce {I make a HUGE batch of this to use and then freeze for later}

  • 3 {28 oz} cans of high-quality crushed tomatoes {I prefer ones that use San Marzano tomatoes}
  • 1 {28 oz} can of high-quality whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 {15 oz} can of high-quality tomato sauce
  • 5-7 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp of each :: dried basil, dried parsley, dried rosemary, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder
  • 1 tsp of sugar or sweetener like Stevia {optional}
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh handful of chopped basil or parsley {optional}

Directions :: Using a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add in your chopped garlic, stirring with wooden spoon and careful not to burn. Once garlic is softened and fragrant, add in all of your cans of tomato products. Add in your seasonings. Lower heat to medium-low and place lid on pot, keeping a small crack open to let the heat escape. Let sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes, then using a potato masher or wooden spoon, break up the large chunks of the whole tomatoes. Check seasonings and add more if necessary. {I keep an Italian blend on hand to touch it up.} Simmer another 10 minutes. Sauce is done! {From here, I will set aside a good portion to freeze, then use the rest that night for spaghetti. You can add in cooked lean ground beef/turkey with lean Italian sausage and noodles of your choice. Quick tossed salad and dinner is done! Plus, you have the frozen to use for lasagna or spaghetti on a busy night – I love to freeze in gallon freezer bags and lay them flat in the freezer, clearly marked with date.}

7. Crockpot Lemon Chicken {Adapted from Dashing Dish}

  • 1 lb chicken breasts
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried Italian seasoning
  • Juice from 2 large lemons
  • 1 cup 100% fat-free chicken broth
  • 4-6 lemon slices

Directions :: Heat EVOO in large skillet on medium/medium high heat. Add your chicken breasts and garlic, browning both and careful not to burn garlic. Don’t cook the chicken all the way through, just enough to get a nice color on each side of the breasts. {This step is optional if you don’t have time in the morning. However, the browning adds a nice depth of flavor to the breasts. If you choose to go straight to the crockpot, substitute the garlic cloves for 2 tsp of garlic powder.} Place chicken breasts in the crockpot and sprinkle Italian seasoning plus pepper to taste. Pour chicken broth and lemon juice over the chicken and place lemon slices on top of each breast. Set crockpot to low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours. Remove chicken, place over cooked rice, pasta, or simply on a plate with veggies on the side. Feeling fancy? Make a quick sauce from the juices leftover in the crockpot. Simply add in 1/2 cup light sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup of shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, 1 1/2 tbsp of dried parsley or a good bunch of fresh if you have it. Stir to combine and serve over cooked chicken.

8. Easy Spinach Lasagna Rolls {Adapted from Skinny Taste}

  • Leftover defrosted frozen marinara from above or jar of organic spaghetti sauce
  • 1 pkg of lasagna noodles
  • 1 box of frozen spinach, defrosted in microwave according to package directions
  • 1 {15 oz} container low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of shredded/grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup of shredded, low-fat mozzarella cheese

Directions :: Preheat oven to 350. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions, drain, and pat dry with paper towel. You will only use 9 or so noodles but cook extra in case they break. Mix together ricotta, Parmesan, and spinach in medium-size bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Spread about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce on bottom of a 9×13 glass baking dish. Lay your dried lasagna noodles on a sheet of wax paper. Scoop about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of spinach mixture onto each noodle. Roll carefully and place seam side down in baking dish. Add more sauce on each roll and add about a tbsp of mozzarella on top. Cover dish with foil and place in oven for 35-40 minutes, until cheese is bubbly. Serve with steamed asparagus or tossed salad!

9. Baked Chicken Tenders {My kiddos LOVE these!}

  • 1 lb of chicken breast tenderloin, or more if you want leftovers for salads, etc
  • 1 cup of Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 4 tbsp of Japanese-style Panko {found on the aisle with the breadcrumbs}
  • 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil or 1/2 cup of skim milk with one egg combined
  • Olive oil spray such as Pam

Directions :: Preheat oven to 425. Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with Pam. Pour EVOO or milk/egg mixture into a small bowl. Stir breadcrumb/panko/parm mixture in another bowl. Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Dip chicken tenders first into EVOO or milk/egg bowl, then coat evenly with breadcrumbs in the other. Place flat onto baking sheet and repeat until all chicken tenders are done. Spray each tender lightly with Pam/olive oil spray and place in oven for 10 minutes. Turn each one and cook for another 5 minutes until cooked through. For a darker crust, only cook on second side for 3 minutes and then broil on high {careful not to burn!} for another 1-2 minutes. Serve with low-fat ranch or BBQ sauce for dipping.

10. Crockpot Meatball Stroganoff {Adapted from Momfessionals}

  • 1 package of egg noodles {You could also serve over brown steamed rice if you prefer}
  • 1 large package of frozen turkey meatballs, about 2 lbs
  • 1 {8 oz} container of light sour cream
  • 1/2 can of 98% fat-free cream of mushroom soup
  • 4 oz reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 jar of sliced mushrooms or 1 pkg of sliced fresh portabella mushrooms {I prefer fresh}
  • 1 can of low-sodium beef broth
  • 2 tbsp of A-1 steak sauce or 1 tbsp of Worcestershire
  • 1 package of dried onion soup mix
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly

Directions :: Mix together cream of mushroom, beef broth, steak sauce, and soup mix in the crock pot. Throw in your frozen meatballs and then spread around mushrooms and onions. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours until meatballs are cooked through. About 30 minutes before serving, mix in sour cream/cream cheese mixture and let warm through. Cook egg noodles or rice to package directions. Ladle meatballs and sauce over noodles and serve with a fresh veggie. Top with chopped fresh parsley if you have it on hand!

Tips & Tricks

1. Meal plan and shop on Saturdays or Sundays. Not the most fun you’ll ever have, but it’s so nice to be organized for the week.

2. To meal plan, check out your favorite recipe sites. I love Dashing Dish and Skinny Taste because not only are they healthy/clean eating for the most part, they are typically easy with minimal ingredients that I have on hand. I hate recipes where I have to buy a random spice or herb that I’ll never use again. I love to choose at least one new recipe for the week. Of course, you “fancy” people have crazy, clever Pintrest boards, so hit those up as well!

3. When thinking about your meals, plan smart. Try to reuse main ingredients if possible – ie. use leftover roasted chicken for your potato boats later in the week, leftover pulled pork for an easy salad or flavorful quesadillas.

4. For more efficient shopping and to avoid pitfalls in the store, prep smart. I love to divide my lists by sections in the grocery store {in order!}. For example, produce, bread/canned, meat, dairy, frozen, and miscellaneous. I also have a section for wine, but that’s neither here nor there.

5. Shop smart, too! If chicken breasts are on sale, stock up! Grill up half of it to use later in the week for lunch lefties or in other recipes. Freeze the rest {make sure you label and date!}.

6. Cook smart! Double your meals when you can and freeze. If you are already buying the ingredients and cooking, might as well do a big batch, right? Certainly makes those busy weeks a lot easier when you can just defrost your meal! Also, take advantage of the slow cooker. Not only does it not heat up your kitchen in these crazy temps, you get to walk in the door to a meal that just needs assembling. Win, win!

7. Freeze smart! My kids eat a ton of rice. Instead of doing one batch at a time, consider making large servings and freezing into quart-size bags. Rice freezes beautifully and easily defrosts. Consider the same with other basics like noodles, or even pre-diced onions, etc.

8. Consider starting a Freezer Meal Club with some of your friends. It’s a great way to not only get new meals to try but also a super fun mom’s night out. If I’m going to cook in bulk, I want my BFF with me!

9. Go easy on yourself! Sometimes it’s just too hard to get home-cooked meals on the table. Nothing’s wrong with the occasional take-out or even better, meal delivery!

10. Finally, don’t forget to check out Houston Moms Blog for tried and true recipes from our busy mommas! So many great suggestions like meals for cooler evenings, clean-eating, healthy, toddler nutrition tips, lunch share ideas, sneaking in veggies, and much more!

So let’s hear from you! What are your favorite easy and healthy recipes during the week? Tips and tricks to get dinner on the table? Sound off below!



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